One of my favorite Rodney Dangerfield one-liners is “I went to a fight last night, and a hockey game broke out,” mainly because of the absurd mental image it evokes. The new comedy “Goon” is all about hockey and fighting, to be sure, but it elicits an absurdity of its own that makes it so memorable.
Based (rather loosely, one imagines) on the memoir by former hockey-player-turned-coach Doug Smith, “Goon” posits the notion that we’ve all got to pursue that one thing we’re great at doing, even if that thing is beating the crap out of other people on the ice.
That’s a skill that gets the film’s Doug Glatt (Seann William Scott) noticed one night, when he attends a hockey game and head-butts a helmet-wearing player who was hurling the F-word at Doug’s gay brother.
Impressed by Doug’s brute skills, the team’s coach hires the bar bouncer to be an enforcer, despite the fact that Doug can barely stand up on ice skates. Not that it matters that much: “You’re not here to play hockey,” Doug is told, “You’re here to fight.”
Doug’s pugilistic skills win him a spot on a Canadian minor-league team, where he’s assigned to protect hotshot Xavier Laflamme (Marc-André Grondin), who plummeted from the majors and has become a coked-up mess ever since he got body-checked by legendary enforcer Ross Rhea (Liev Schreiber).
While the film builds toward the inevitable meeting of Doug and Rhea on the ice, our hero also finds time to fall in love with Eva (Alison Pill), a young woman with a weakness for brewskis and hockey types. Doug pursues her with such sweetness and fervor that Eva can no longer resist him, admitting, “You make me wanna stop sleeping with a bunch of guys.”
It’s Doug’s kindness and wide-eyed naïveté that make “Goon” such a treat. Screenwriters Evan Goldberg (Seth Rogen’s collaborator on “Superbad” and “Pineapple Express”) and Jay Baruchel (who co-stars as Doug’s hockey-obsessed, potty-mouthed best pal) strike a delicate balance between Doug’s guilelessness and his capacity for violence, and the loony balance of the two — played with expert precision by Scott — gives the film its comic zest.
It’s hard to make an inarticulate character funny without being condescending, but Scott and the script get us to laugh at Doug’s dopiness (when he encounters a crying Eva, he asks her if she’s just seen “Rudy”) and to adore the character all the more.
Director Michael Dowse (previously responsible for the execrable “Take Me Home Tonight”) elicits memorable performances from his cast and keeps things moving both on and off the ice. He gives “Goon” a real feel for its minor-league milieu, from the seedy apartments to the questionable characters on the team. (“I got two rules,” says one of Doug’s teammates. "'Stay away from my fuckin' Percocets,' and 'Do you have any fuckin' Percocets?'")
George Roy Hill’s 1977 classic “Slap Shot” may still hold the title as the quintessential hockey comedy, but “Goon” certainly deserves to be mentioned in its company, juggling charm and grit and raunch and bloody teeth with assuredness and aplomb.